The Coast Guard's Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre has opened for the season in Iqaluit.

By next week, the centre will be fully up and running.

Each summer, the Canadian Coast Guard operates the Iqaluit station to communicate with all ships entering Arctic waters, from Greenland to Alaska and north of the 60th parallel.

"We provide safety services, which means that we maintain radio watch over international distress and safety frequencies for all this area," said J.P. Lehnert, the officer in charge of Iqaluit’s coast guard office.

If there is a distress signal, the Iqaluit centre alerts search and rescue crews in southern Canada.

mi-coast-guard-ship-arctic

The Canadian Coast Guard centre is now open in Iqaluit - a sure sign that it's summer in the Arctic. (CBC)

Beginning this summer, officers will also provide ships with detailed information about hazards. The change is a result of the Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the 2010 grounding of the Clipper Adventurer cruise ship. In that case, the ship’s charts didn’t include a known sandbar.

Centre could open for much longer as season lengthens

At this moment, none of the six icebreakers which make up the Canadian Coast Guard’s fleet are in the Arctic. They will arrive later this month and help guide sealift ships on their ice route.

"We also try to position the icebreakers with traffic in mind. We'll have an icebreaker where they'll be needed. We can't be everywhere at the same time, but we try to be there at the same time the vessels are going through," said Andy Maillet, the superintendent of operations for the centre.

This will soon be the only coast guard station in Canada’s North. Inuvik's station will close after this season and next summer all communications will happen from Iqaluit.

It could be a challenge, especially with an increase in marine traffic in the Arctic.

"We will be looking at expanding the operational season here in Iqaluit from the current six to eight months next year. And perhaps much longer than that to 365 [days a year] in the coming years," said Peter Garapick, superintendent at the Iqaluit coast guard centre.

An expanded season is something fishermen in Nunavut have asked for, as their seasons stretch longer and longer every year.

For now, the Iqaluit centre will run until the end of November. After that, the service will be transferred to Prescott, Ont.